Saturday marks the end of the two months worth of SEC football for 2013. As we kick off Week Eight of the season, below is your usual weekend primer. Television listings, Vegas odds, updated stats and our own views and predictions. Everything you need for Saturday’s six-pack of SEC action.
As always, good luck to your favorite team this weekend…
#15 Georgia (4-2) at Vanderbilt (3-3)
TV: 12:00pm ET on CBS
Opening Line: UGA -9.5
Current Line: UGA -7
One To Watch: Georgia QB Aaron Murray. The senior signal-caller could snap a pair of SEC career records on Saturday — Tim Tebow’s record for career total offense and Danny Wuerffel’s record for career touchdown passes. More importantly, with the Dawgs’ arsenal of weapons nearly depleted and the defense struggling, more weight now falls on Murray’s shoulders. Last week he made mistakes and Georgia couldn’t overcome them. It’s not easy to play a perfect game, but that’s what Murray’s having to do these days.
This And That:
1. As mentioned above, injuries appear to be catching up with the Bulldog offense. Against Clemson and South Carolina to open the season, UGA posted 545 and 536 yards respectively. They put another 494 on LSU back in September. But the Dawgs have had their two worst days for total offense over the last two weeks (434 yards versus Tennessee and 454 yards versus Missouri). Those are still good numbers to be sure, but Mike Bobo’s bunch no longer looks as unstoppable as it did early in the season.
2. Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews needs 98 yards receiving to break Terrence Edwards’ SEC career mark of 3,093 yards. The Vandy senior is second in the SEC this season averaging 118.2 yards per game. Expect Georgia to do its best to shut him down, but Matthews has caught 100+ yards worth of passes in five of VU’s six contests. Even with opposing Ds keying on him. And Georgia’s pass defense ranks just 12th in the SEC.
3. If the games winds up as close as we believe, the turnover battle could be the decisive stat. Vandy is guilty of nine giveaways on the season and rank 12th in the SEC at minus-two in turnover margin. Georgia is even worse. In fact, UGA’s minus-four turnover margin (including nine giveaways) is dead last in the league. Remember the old adage: The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.
Prediction: Georgia 35, Vanderbilt 31
#11 South Carolina (5-1) at Tennessee (3-3)
TV: 12:00pm ET on ESPN
Opening Line: USC -7
Current Line: USC -7.5
One To Watch: Tennessee QB Justin Worley. Like the rest of his teammates, Worley’s best moments of the season came two weeks ago in the second half of an overtime loss to Georgia. Did the junior from the Palmetto State turn the proverbial corner? Or will he turn back into a Big Orange pumpkin against his home state team tomorrow?
This And That:
1. If the Volunteers want to hang with the #11 Gamecocks they’ll need to force some turnovers. That’s not something Tennessee has done against top-drawer competition. Against unranked opponents the Vols are plus-seven in turnover margin. But against ranked foes (Oregon, Florida, and Georgia), UT is minus-five in turnovers. That’s quite the flip-flop. South Carolina is even in turnover margin (plus-10 and minus-10) on the year.
2. How will the second half unfold? The Vols are coming off a much-needed open date, but Butch Jones’ roster is still paper thin in a lot of areas. Carolina runs the ball better in the second half of games (815 yards to 539 yards). They could wear UT down. But up until last week the Cocks had not played a complete game. They’d scene Vanderbilt, UCF and Kentucky make comebacks against them. That was not the case in their blowout win at Arkansas. Will Tennessee wear down in the second half? Will Carolina go to sleep at halftime? Stay tuned.
3. Keep an eye on the mano a mano battle between Jadeveon Clowney and Tiny Richardson. The Vol tackle played the Gamecock defensive end to a draw last season in Columbia… right up until Clowney strip-sacked Tyler Bray to secure a hard-fought victory in the game’s final seconds. Expect Richardson to get plenty of help on Clowney who played a fine game in Fayetteville last weekend.
Prediction: South Carolina 31, Tennessee 21
#22 Florida (4-2) at #14 Missouri (6-0)
TV: 12:21pm ET on SEC TV
Opening Line: Pick
Current Line: UF -3
One To Watch: Florida’s defensive line. Specifically, keep an eye on the middle of that line. Until last week the Gators had survived the loss of defensive tackle Dominique Easley. But last week, the Gators played a quality team in LSU. The Tigers ran for 175 yards — many coming right up the gut — against the league’s best run D. If Missouri — the league’s #2 rushing offense — can run on the Gators, it will take a whole lot of pressure off new quarterback Maty Mauk.
This And That:
1. Mauk stepped in and got the job done last week at Georgia when James Franklin went down in the fourth quarter. But now he’ll have to captain the Tiger offense from start to finish. And instead of going up against one of the SEC’s worst defenses, he’ll be playing against one of the league’s best in Florida. Not only are the Gators good against the run and pass, but they also force their opponents into mistakes. Only two SEC teams have forced more turnovers (12) than Florida. (Missouri is one of those two, by the way). A new young QB making his first start against a smart, tough defense? That looks like trouble for Mizzou.
2. Meanwhile, Gator quarterback Tyler Murphy crashed back to earth last Saturday at LSU. After a hot start to his reign as UF QB, Murphy led the Gators to just six points and 240 yards in Baton Rouge. This Tiger defense doesn’t boast the reputation of that other Tiger D, but Mizzou is #1 in the SEC in turnover margin (plus-nine overall), #3 in rushing defense and #6 in scoring defense. Where Missouri struggles is in pass defense, ranking 14th in the 14-team SEC in that category. Is Murphy good enough as a thrower to exploit that weakness? He looked like it against Kentucky and Arkansas, not so much versus LSU.
3. Murphy — like so many Gator quarterbacks before him — is in serious need of some playmakers around him. Will Muschamp said this week that he wants to see more explosive plays from his team’s offense. Only Kentucky and Tennessee have fewer plays of 10 yards or more. No SEC squad has fewer 20+ yard plays than Florida. Ditto 30+ yard plays. And 40+ yard plays. You get the picture. Florida has to grind its way down the field with long, multi-play drives. Now remember what we said about Missouri’s ability to force turnovers.
Prediction: Florida 21, Missouri 20
#24 Auburn (5-1) at #7 Texas A&M (5-1)
TV: 3:30pm ET on CBS
Opening Line: A&M -14
Current Line: A&M -13.5
One To Watch: Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel. If he takes care of the football, it’s hard to imagine Auburn — or many other teams — outgunning the Aggies.
This And That:
1. Nick Marshall will be back at quarterback for Auburn this weekend at College Station. He’s got a 4-1 record as a starter and he showed improvement each week until hurting his knee against Ole Miss two weeks ago. Backup Jeremy Johnson — a true freshman — wowed fans with a splendid performance passing the ball, albeit against Western Carolina last week. Marshall is now viewed as the runner and Johnson as the passer by many Tiger fans. How much Gus Malzahn will use the freshman tomorrow — and in what way — remains to be seen. According to the coach: “You will see his role and it’ll make a lot more sens as we move forward.” Cryptic, no?
2. No one has stopped Manziel and his fleet of wideouts so far this season. Obviously, the onus in this one is on Auburn’s offense to try and keep pace. Luckily for the Tigers, their strength matches up well with the Aggies’ biggest weakness. AU leads the SEC with 287.0 rushing yards per game and 6.26 yards per carry. Texas A&M is 13th in the SEC in rushing yards allowed per contest (201.1) and last in the league in yards per carry allowed (5.75). The Ags have found themselves in a number of shootouts already this season (Alabama 42-49, Arkansas 45-33, Ole Miss 41-38 last week). Don’t be surprised to see another high-scoring affair tomorrow afternoon.
3. Everyone knows that Manziel leads the SEC in passing (305.8 yards per game) and in total offense (377.0 yards per game). What you might not know is that Johnny Football could just as easily be called Johnny Clutch. Here’s his passer rating by quarter in 2013: 178.59 (first), 153.99 (second), 157.43 (third) and then an unbelievable 248.57 in the fourth quarters of games. In final stanzas this year Manziel has gone 26-of-32 (81.3%) for 441 yards and five touchdowns against zero interceptions. Now let’s look at the quarterback’s numbers by down: 176.41 (first down), 138.43 (second down) and a scorching 278.63 on third downs. On the season Manziel has gone 22-of-27 (81.5%) on third downs for 398 yards, six TDs and no INTs. Manziel was good in 2012… he’s better in 2013.
Prediction: Texas A&M 45, Auburn 37
#6 LSU (6-1) at Ole Miss (3-3)
TV: 7:00pm ET on ESPN2
Opening Line: LSU -9.5
Current Line: LSU -10
One To Watch: Ole Miss’ team doctor. The Rebels are as banged up as anyone in the SEC right now. Three players are done for the season. Five players are questionable for tomorrow’s game. Another five are doubtful. One of those happens to be starting running back Jeff Scott. Crazy things can happen in this ancient rivalry, but on paper the Rebels don’t appear to have the depth to handle LSU. Even Hugh Freeze had this to say this week: “You fear that because of our depth issues we won’t be able to adequately represent the progress we’re making against these top teams.”
This And That:
1. Despite the injury woes that have befallen the Rebels, Freeze’s team has still managed to be competitive in its last two losses (22-30 at Auburn and 38-41 versus Texas A&M last week). At some point, however, a team’s spirit tends to break after enough losses (of games and of players). Mississippi has now dropped three games in a row and Freeze himself was seen jawing with a out-of-order fan after last week’s loss. How much fight will the Rebels have in them? (Remember that question for later)
2. Zach Mettenberger had his roughest outing of the season last week against Florida’s salty defense. He’ll try to bounce back from his nine-of-17, no touchdowns, no interceptions performance against an Ole Miss defense that could be missing as many as six starters. On the season, Mettenberger has tossed 15 TDs against just two picks.
3. When Mississippi has the ball, the pressure will be on Rebel QB Bo Wallace. Literally and figuratively. LSU ranks fifth in the SEC with 14 sacks on the season. Ole Miss is tied for last in the league in the number of sacks allowed with 16. In the face of the Tigers’ pass rush, Wallace must protect the football. He did not throw an interception through UM’s first four games. The last two weeks… he’s thrown three.
Prediction: LSU 37, Ole Miss 24
Arkansas (3-4) at #1 Alabama (6-0)
TV: 7:00pm ET on ESPN
Opening Line: ALA -28
Current Line: ALA -28.5
One To Watch: Arkansas’ attitude. After a hot 3-0 start to the 2013 campaign, Bret Bielema’s team has cratered to a 3-4 overall mark. The Razorbacks are 0-3 in the SEC and they were nuked at home by South Carolina last week, 52-7. Heading off to face the #1 team in the land isn’t the best prescription for getting well quick. Facing adversity and Alabama, how much fight will the Hogs have in them?
This And That:
1. Alabama is creeping up the total defense chart in the Southeastern Conference. Since yielding 628 yards to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M, Bama’s D has improved in each of the last four weeks: 279 yards to 205 yards to 175 yards to 170 yards. Just one problem: Those defensive improvements came against Colorado State, Ole Miss, Georgia State and Kentucky. Those teams are a combined 6-18 on the year. So while Kirby Smart’s crew should be tough enough to stop fading Arkansas, there’s really no telling just how real Bama’s defensive improvements have been.
2. Nick Saban will most likely try to take away the one thing that Arkansas most wants to do. That’s run the football. The Razorbacks got off to a scintillating start rushing for 883 yards in their first three ballgames (a 294.3 per game average). But in their last four games, the Hogs have amassed just 631 yards on the ground (157.7 per game). If the Tide stacks the line and dares Arkansas to beat them through the air, a still learning Brandon Allen will have to outperform the league’s second-ranked pass defense. And the last two weeks Allen has completed just 21-of-53 passes (39.6%) for 194 yards, no scores and two picks.
3. To spring an upset, Bielema’s boys will most likely need to win the turnover battle and the kicking game. That won’t be easy either. Arkansas is worse than Alabama in turnover margin (minus-three to plus-one), in punt returns (a 5.8 average to a 14.5 average), in kick returns (a 19.2 average to a 24.4 average), in punt coverage (a 15.6 average to a 7.5 average) and in kick coverage (a 21.6 average to a 18.6 average). And, oh yeah, the Crimson Tide is better punting the ball, too (46.7 yards per punt for Bama and 45.2 yards per punt for Arkansas).
Prediction: Alabama 41, Arkansas 9